Season 1876

Pretty much a repetition of the previous season; grouse were increasing fast, but none to spare for the gun.

I worked away at the cock birds, and let the boys get their hands in on the outside beats, where the birds would not be missed, breaking them in work as well as the dogs.

In the spring of this year, carrying out the idea propounded by Dunbar, utilising my experience of American house building in wood, of which I had taken careful particulars when in that country a year or two previously, I built a small lodge near to Altnabreac station, containing kitchen, parlour, and five bedrooms, and let it, with 12,000 acres of moorland, for three years—first year £200, second and third year at £300 a year, including keeper, with a proviso that if my keeper was of opinion that the birds could not be spared the bag should be limited to 100 brace in the first year, and in that event I was to return £100 of the rent.

I did limit them, and sent them a check for £100.

Grouse 112 brace.100 brace.
Sundries 54½     "   ——

The railway was open and a station stuck down in the middle of the moorland four miles from Dalnawillan Lodge and seven from Glutt, no road, or footpath even, in any direction from the station.

It was stuck down in the centre of the moorland to take its chance.

For the use of Dalnawillan and Glutt Dunbar and I did our best to induce the proprietor to make the four miles of road that was needed.

We offered during the tenancy of our leases to pay the proprietor six per cent. on the £600, which was the estimated cost of the road, and do the repairs ourselves, but of no avail. At last it was settled that I should make the road and find the money, the cost, with interest at five per cent., to be repaid to me by twelve equal yearly instalments, of which the proprietor contributed half, Dunbar a quarter, and myself a quarter. The road was made and open ready for use for the shooting season of 1876.

After about a fortnight at Dalnawillan I took a trip into Shetland with my boy Charlie, to verify the wondrous tales of sea trout that were to be had in every tidal stream and loch.

It was a miserable disappointment, every fish that could be had was poached on the spawning beds and by any other means at any other time; but on some of the outer islands, I believe, matters were better.

What there were were very fine fish; we had nine in all, four of which weighed 6-1/2lb.

What a small world it is! Charley was fishing away in Brouster Loch in waders up to his middle, when someone calls out: "Holloa, Charley, what are you doing here?" And there was his class master at Clifton College also up to his middle.

On our return to Caithness we had a horribly stormy passage from Lerwick to Wick, putting in for the night at Kirkwall in Orkney, to shelter from stress of weather.

Lerwick is a very pretty little town, the most northerly in Great Britain, doing a good and lively trade in fishing matters, and having a great many visitors in the season. For those cockneys who have the blessed faculty of defying mal de mer, and enjoying bottled porter and a pipe with the ocean in commotion—and my experience, so far as it goes, is that in those northern latitudes it always is in commotion—what can be a pleasanter or a cheaper sea trip than to go by the Aberdeen boat from London Bridge to Aberdeen, and thence to Lerwick viâ Wick, and round the islands in the trading steamer, and home by the West Coast.

Shetland from the outside looks very nice. It is indented in every direction with fiords, or voes they call them there, with very fine cliff scenery.

But the inside is dismal, the crofters and fishermen pare the turf and heather for winter bedding for their cattle, and, what with that and peat cutting for fuel, they leave the surface of the hills very black looking and hideous.

There is some good heather, perhaps about seven thousand acres, in the main island, and it would, no doubt, carry some grouse, if any means could be devised for destroying the swarms of greyback gulls, hoodie crows, and hawks.

Not a living thing can show, without being pounced upon and devoured. The only game of any description that I saw was two snipe; not even a rabbit.

Before I went it had struck me as an anomaly that there should not be grouse, and I looked well into the question of whether grouse could be profitably introduced, but, looking at the small amount of moorland, and the large cost, if not impossibility of destroying the vermin, I gave up the notion. I notice from letters in the Field  and elsewhere that others are agitating the question, and they will do well to thoroughly bottom the question before incurring heavy responsibilities.

One thing that strikes a visitor is the incessant knitting on the part of every woman and girl; no matter when or where, the knitting needles incessantly ply. Carrying baskets of peats from the hills in creels on their backs, still the needles ply in front.

Some of their knitting is very beautiful. The common goods are knitted from imported yarn, but the beautiful shawls are knitted from yarn spun from the fully-grown wool of the indigenous native sheep.

The wool is not clipped, but pulled when fully ripe.

The native sheep are of all colours, white, brown, yellow, &c., and many piebald.

With these colours the varied colours of the best quality Shetland shawls are derived from the natural colour of the wool, without dyeing.

Some of the shawls are exquisitely fine, and fetch large prices. For one, many yards square, I gave £5. Of course it was a unique specimen, and afterwards, in England, I was assured that it was a cheap purchase. It could be doubled up not much larger than a pocket handkerchief.